Tag Archives: Paul Gordon

A budding romance

Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock in Daddy Long Legs (Photo: Tim Fuller/Arizona Theatre Company)

Jerusha Abbott (Megan McGinnis), the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home, learns one day that she’s been chosen by a generous benefactor to receive full college tuition with room and board. But there’s a catch. Nine of them, actually — all recounted in the benefactor’s sole letter to Abbott.

She’s delighted to escape the orphanage, but puzzled by college life and fellow students whose experiences with family, friends and privilege she’s never shared. Still, she honors her benefactor’s request to write once a month — often writing more often as she has anecdotes or questions to share.

Megan McGinnis in Daddy Long Legs (Photo: Tim Fuller/Arizona Theatre Company)

Abbott knows only that her benefactor is lanky and tall, having seen him leaving the orphanage the day word came of his generosity. And so she dubs him “Daddy Long Legs,” assuming he’s terrribly old and boldly asking in her letters whether he’s got black hair, grey hair or no hair at all.

But her benefactor, Jervis Pendleton (Robert Adelman Hancock), is young and rather handsome. Also bookish and a bit of a loner. As Pendelton reads Abbott’s letters, which he’s sworn never to answer, he comes to admire her curiosity, innocence and wit. Once they meet, under false pretenses, his admiration turns to adoration. It’s something he can’t share, for reasons revealed during the course of the play.

“Daddy Long Legs” features book by John Caird, who also directs the work. Prior directing credits have earned Caird both Tony and Olivier Awards. The musical features music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, whose music and lyrics for “Jane Eyre” earned a Tony Award nomination.

The writing is well-paced and humorous, the music sentimental and sweet. Together they convey the evolving and sometimes conflicted emotions of Abbott and Pendleton. Both McGinnis and Hancock originated their roles at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, California.  

The only weakness in Sunday night’s performance at the Herberger Theater Center was the sometimes nasal quality of Hancock’s vocal performance — but it’s easily overlooked with the exceptional quality of all those high notes. Abbott’s vocals were clear and melodic, the perfect embodiment of the character’s wonderment at the world around her.

Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock in Daddy Long Legs (Photo: Tim Fuller/Arizona Theatre Company)

Although “Daddy Long Legs” is a tale of self-discovery and budding romance, it also explores some weightier themes — the role of women in society, the limitations of charity by checkwriting, the nature of God and the lure of socialism. Apparently all were on the mind of Jean Webster, the novelist whose work inspired the musical.

“Daddy Long Legs” is set in New England during the early part of the 20th century. Its simple but dramatic set consists of a darkly-paneled library filled with book-laden shelves, plus desk, lamp and chair — and an assortment of trunks that morph into everything from bed to mountaintop.

A teen who sat next to me at the performance toyed every once and a while with her cell phone — failing, I suspect, to recognize how opportunities for women have evolved since Webster penned her novel in 1912. There’s a comprehensive study guide on the Arizona Theatre Company website that does a magnificent job of making clear just how far we’ve come, and how we got here.

In the end, I was struck be something far simpler — Abbott’s realization that the bravery needed to face the everyday exceeds the courage called for in times of crisis.

— Lynn 

Note: Arizona Theatre Company presents the Arizona premiere of “Daddy Long Legs” through Jan. 15. Click here for show and ticket information, and here to read the play guide.

Coming up: Reflections on 1,000 posts

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Seeing red

It’s starting to feel like a bit of a conspiracy theory. Now that my daughter Lizabeth is readying to leave Arizona for college, several of the shows she’s most eager to see have started popping up around the Valley.

We were “seeing red” recently when we realized she’ll be well into her freshman year (at a college yet to be decided) before the Arizona premiere of a play that won six 2010 Tony Awards — including “best play.”

The work is John Logan’s “Red” — which is based on the true story of an artist grappling with “the commission of a lifetime.” The play is described as “a searing portrait of an artist’s ambition and vulnerability.”

Apparently matters are complicated by a new assistant who questions the artist’s “views of art, creativity and commerce.” Their master/novice dialogue explores an age-old query: “Is art meant to provoke, soothe or disturb?”

“Red” is the final work in the recently unveiled Arizona Theatre Company 2011-2012 season, which opens with a world premiere titled “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club.” It’s a Jeffrey Hatcher work based on “The Suicide Club” by Robert Louis Stevenson and characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The 45th anniversary season slate for Arizona Theatre Company also features the Southwest premiere of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” which won the 2009 Tony Award for “best play.” Picture grown-ups trying to be civilized as they discuss their children’s misadventures on a playground — only to unravel as “political correctness” dissolves into “character assasination.”

The fact that bullying is such a hot topic of discussion these days makes this work especially intriguing. Perhaps it’ll answer one of my one burning questions: Why are parents (and politicians) who bully so suprised when children follow in their footsteps?

They’ll also present the Southwest premiere of “Daddy Long Legs” — a musical that’s based on the novel by Jean Webster. It features book by John Caird (who also directs), and music/lyrics by Paul Gordon.

“Daddy Long Legs” couples coming of age saga and love story. Told “through a series of letters,” it’s described as “a testament to the power of the written word.”

Valley theater-goers might have had more experience with the next show in ATC’s 2011-2012 season — “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.” Lizabeth and I first saw this one at ASU Gammage, then at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

“The 39 Steps,” which features four actors in well over 100 roles, is described by some as “spy novel meets Monty Python.” It’s the tale of a mild-mannered man who finds himself tangled up with murder, espionage and a dash of flirtacious misadventure. When well cast (which I certainly expect to be the case with ATC), it’s one of the funniest shows around.

An additional offering in the ATC 2011-2012 season is Simon Levy’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” — based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name. It explores a world of wealth and privilege during the “jazz age” of 1920s America.

It’s hard to imagine a stronger season. And while Lizabeth is truly disappointed she won’t be here to experience these shows, ATC’s 2011-2012 offerings will serve me well by providing poignant, powerful fare and a much needed distraction as I miss my favorite theater companion.

— Lynn

Note: Arizona Theatre Company presents their “Curtains Up Cabaret 2011” Sat, April 30 at the Herberger Theater Center. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: Musings on “message” movies, Valley teen does comedy